Game of Thrones is a gift to anyone who’s ever dreamed of being a teenage fantasy queen. But as any girl with her nose in a book could tell you, there’s a lot more wrapped up in our love of young women who rise to power than just Daenerys Targaryen’s badassery and strength.
In fact, for some of the greatest queens, like Frozen’s Elsa, strength is a dangerous quality rather than a boon. For Susan, the heroine of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, her boldness and confidence are seen as signs that she’s too dangerous to head up her kingdom. For others, like the bouncy Mia Thermopolis of The Princess Diaries, strength is about mastering subtlety, nuance, and grace under pressure.
These queens, in their own way, represent women who’ve broken out of impossible societal restrictions, whether due to their own skill, magical powers imbued to them by fate, or a combination of both. We love them because they remind us that power isn’t just about having physical skill—it’s being able to survive in a world that continually questions your right to exist. In their own ways, these women don’t just rule—they manipulate the system that put them in power, and then they strike back at it.
At the end of Mia Thermopolis’s long ascendency to become Queen of Genovia, after all her dedicated commitment to learning the ins and outs of rulership, one of her first acts as queen is to become a successful novelist instead.
Queenliness is what we make it, these queens tell us. And in their quest to be rulers who are still undeniably relatable, still undeniably human, they help make each and every woman a queen in her own way.
Queen of the Damned
Secret weapon: Bloodlust
Akasha is described as “young” when she marries the king of what will later become Egypt. It’s hard to say what exactly went wrong, but somewhere along the way, Akasha transitioned from being a kind and wise ruler to an outright tyrant who forced one of her servants to rape two psychics because she didn’t like what the spirits had to say to her. And all that was before she became the world’s first vampire. As evil as evil gets, Akasha’s existence is a cruel irony: once stridently opposed to cannibalism, she bred a race of vampires and became the most ruthless cannibal of all.
Power ranking: 70/100 pre-vampirism, 100/100 post-vampirism (truly omnipotent)—mainly because it took 6,000 years for someone to get around to finally killing her.
2) Jaenelle Angelline
The Black Jewels
Secret Weapon: the ability to survive almost anything. Actually, In the words of one die-hard Jaenelle roleplayer, “BASICALLY SHE’S MAGICAL JESUS AND CAN DO WHATEVER THE FUCK SHE WANTS.”
Anne Bishop’s lusty, lavish trilogy was an award-winning hit with readers, in part due to the extra-special qualities of its heroine. If you dug Jupiter Jones, Jaenelle will leave you trembling in her wake. By the time Jaenelle is 15, she’s been to hell and back (literally), institutionalized repeatedly, adopted by Satan and his cadre of hot shirtless demons, raped and tortured, put in a three-year-long coma, and taught to fight and fly—all while rapidly becoming one of the most powerful witches ever. If all that sounds dizzying, she does it all while ascending to her natural role as queen and wandering back and forth between various worlds while clad in skimpy goth lingerie—er, that is, a “spider-silk” gown.
While this series is an unabashed guilty pleasure, there’s something supremely satisfying about watching a little girl survive and come out even more powerful, again and again and again. By the time she’s finally reached the age of maturity and attained her true role as ~Queen of the Darkness~, she’s pretty much invincible. Did we mention she also talks to unicorns and uses a unicorn’s horn as her scepter? Oh, and in her true humanoid form, she has a unicorn horn on her forehead, a slight mane down her back, hooves, a fawn’s tail, and claws. No wonder all the demons want to hit that.
Power Ranking: 99/100.
Power is being able to survive in a world that continually questions your right to exist.
The Justice League
Secret Weapon: Mind/Will/Plant control
Among the pantheon of DC Comics supervillains, Hyathis doesn’t get much attention, even though she’s appeared in more than 30 issues since her debut in 1961’s Justice League America, and even though she has a host of seriously impressive superpowers. For starters, she can control plants. She uses her powers for evil at times. First she used science to find a remedy for the plague, then extorted an entire planet into making her their world ruler in exchange for the cure, then turned that planet into her personal world-sized army. This is one plant-chick you don’t want to piss off.
Power ranking: 97/100
4) Yeine Darr
Secret weapon: Playing politics
Yeine is 16 when she begins ruling her small sub-kingdom of Darr. She’s 19 when she’s forced to abandon her people and answer a summons from her distant relatives, the ruling family. Like Daenerys, Yeine is an outlier, a distant heir to the throne that none within the royal city of Sky take seriously. It’s her pragmatism and political savviness as she navigates in totally unfamiliar surroundings that win her over to us. And it’s the extraordinary nature of who and what she is, and what she does with that power, that makes N.K. Jemisin’s acclaimed debut novel so memorable.
Power ranking: 95/100
5) Daenerys Targaryen
Age: 13 in A Song of Ice and Fire, 15 in Game of Thrones
Secret Weapon: Dragons
Daenerys epitomizes what we want all queens to be: fiery, self-assured, confident, implacable, but gentle and merciful where it counts. Granted, the price she’s had to pay for that brand of leadership is losing nearly everyone she’s ever loved. Part of what makes Dany so mesmerizing is that she is so young and so easily written off by those around her. “I am but a young girl and know little of the ways of war,” she mockingly tells the men who look down at her. It makes her Prince Hal–like ascendancy to power so much sweeter.
Another factor is that in her role as the physical outlying heir, out of sight and out of mind for most of the others squabbling over the throne, she can distill the ethos of rulership down to its bare basics—might, wisdom, and glory—transcending the petty politics and constant diabolical machinations that characterize the other attempts to vie for the Iron Throne.
Power Ranking: 92/100
Akasha bred a race of vampires and became the most ruthless cannibal of all.
Secret Weapon: Community
GIF via biohazardbutterfly/Tumblr
Elsa was initially meant to be the villain of Disney’s smash hit. Then the writers listened to “Let It Go” and realized they had a chance to tell a completely different kind of story. We can’t imagine that Frozen would have become the phenomenon it became had it focused on splintering a sisterly bond instead of healing it; but then given how satisfying it is to watch Elsa finally come into her own, perhaps she could have entered the pantheon of the great Disney villains. It’s rare you get to see someone get a makeover montage in which they make over themselves; even more rare when it happens to a queen, of all people. But what’s interesting about Elsa’s makeover is that although it feels empowering, it really isn’t: It drives her into solitude and has negative consequences for everyone, including herself. (Assuming she can’t manufacture food in that ice castle, she’s not going to be hanging out there long.)
Elsa is the anti–Mia Thermopolis: Instead of having an army of PR personnel trained in maneuvering her through the ins and outs of rulership, she spends most of her reign, as far as we can tell, completely alone. The muddled message of the movie argues that it’s love that saves Elsa from destroying her kingdom; while that’s partly true, it’s only when she realizes that she’s not alone, that she has the ability to ask for help, that she’s able to, er, come in from the cold and rule as she intended.
Power ranking: 88/100
The Abhorsen Trilogy
Secret weapon: Intelligence
Illustration via ashleydoesartstuff/Tumblr
Sabriel is a true hero in the classic sense, forced to rely repeatedly on her quick wit and street smarts in a continual battle to outlive her enemies and gain her rightful role as a powerful mage and protector of her kingdom. Sabriel is a kind of Merlin for a postmodern age, a sorcerer-soldier who goes out and fights for the kingdom instead of merely defending it with magic. But it’s her quick thinking in every situation that gives her the upper hand against villain after villain.
Power ranking: 80/10
Nala is the take-no-bullshit voice of reason in Simba’s cold, cruel world.
9) Susan Pevensie
The Chronicles of Narnia
Secret weapon: Skepticism
GIF via Tumblr
Who didn’t love Susan, with her natural cynicism and skepticism fully on display, yet keeping her loyalty, leadership, and gentle nature intact? If you were a fan of Susan, then ever after, the end of the Narnia series gave you a template for resentment on behalf of girls who were too opinionated, too bold, too easily demonized in comparison to their purer, more angelically faith-filled counterparts. Though in the end, Susan survived, it was a hard-won survival, and we like to believe that in a sequel, C.S. Lewis would have eventually shown her reclaiming her throne without actually changing all the fundamental things we loved about her.
Power Ranking: 75/100
10) Queen Amidala
Secret Weapon: Courage
In her role as a member of the Republic Senate, Padme often comes off looking weak and ineffective. She’s barely able to take a stand against the Separatist movement, and in the tie-in novels she woefully misjudges Palpatine early on as a nice guy who’s not really all that power-hungry. Oops.
As Queen of Naboo, however, she’s a no-holds-barred badass. Although she’s the youngest queen ever, and although she’s only had minimal self-defense lessons, she still grabs her own blaster and faces down danger like a trained Jedi. Padme always places the good of her planet above her own happiness, and in the end, she places the good of the entire galaxy above her love for Anakin, whose ass she generally kicks all over the place. Plus, she can do this:
GIF via Tumblr
Padme has a particularly pathetic ending: She essentially dies of a broken heart in order to fuel Anakin’s rage en route to villainy. (Thanks, George Lucas.) But it doesn’t change the fact that in her prime, Amidala was a force to be reckoned with. No wonder Leia and Luke saved the universe.
Power ranking: 70/100
11) Margaery Tyrell
Game of Thrones
Secret Weapon: Opportunism
Illustration via carriebest/deviantART
Was there ever a queen so simultaneously lucky and unlucky? With political shrewdness and pinpoint timing, Margaery becomes queen of the Iron Throne and manages to stay there for a surprising amount of time despite repeated attempts by Cersei Lannister to ruin her. Despite a generally compassionate nature, Margaery is ambitious, never missing an opportunity to advance herself. And despite having relatively little political power on her own, and despite the fact that every advance leaves her more susceptible to attack, she manages to hold her own extremely well.
Power ranking: 65/100
Age: 2, which is basically young-adulthood for lions.
Secret weapon: Wisdom
Nala is the take-no-bullshit voice of reason in Simba’s cold, cruel world, but she’s also characterized by clear-sightedness and an ability to see the truth without judgment. Although she knows him when they’re both young and reckless, she sees Simba as the spoiled, clueless, know-it-all kid he is, and even after he’s gone through his emo teen rebellion she brings him back to earth. In the companion book Nala’s Dare, she befriends a young rogue lion despite common wisdom that rogues are dangerous, because she can see him as he truly is.
Later on, in Lion King 2, she’s the one who first recognizes that not all of the exiled lions who supported Scar’s rule are untrustworthy. After Scar has allowed the hyenas to lay waste to the land, she helps shoulders the burden of Simba’s presumed death and makes the decision to leave to find help on her own. She’s also the first lion to join Simba in the fight to overthrow Scar after his return. Through it all, she remains sassy and independent but committed to reason and kindness.
Power ranking: 60/100
They manipulate the system that put them in power, and then they strike back at it.
13) Jupiter Jones
Age: Unclear, but she’s clearly still in that awkward late-teen phase
Secret Weapon: Being able to summon a superhuman half-wolf-bird on space roller skates to rescue her from any and every possible life-or-death scenario
Much has been said about how Jupiter was the unabashed gratuitous fantasy outlet that female sci-fi fans have been waiting for since the dawn of the genre. Part awkward teen, part runway model, Jupiter was the self-insert Mary Sue queen we’ve been waiting for, as gullible and prone to needing to be rescued as Luke Skywalker, yet as endearing and, ultimately, badass as every other self-insert Mary Sue.
The difference? Jupiter wasn’t a self-insert fantasy we hewed for ourselves out of the literary scraps of tropes long-scavenged by male heroes. She was presented to us, ready-to-wear, as though she had just as much right to roller-skate through the galaxy as the countless boy kings who have come and gone before her. And oh, was she glorious. Those bees weren’t just genetically designed to recognize royalty; they were genetically designed to recognize swagger.
Power ranking: 50/100
14) Mia Thermopolis
The Princess Diaries
Secret Weapon: Etiquette
Even more impressive than having Julie Andrews as your surprise grandmother? Mia Thermopolis’s ability to adapt to an entirely new life as the heir to a throne in a country she never even knew existed. (Those tiny fictional European countries, what would we do without them?) Through the 10 books in her series, she stays as boy-crazy and flighty as any teen girl in a generic teen coming-of-age story; except she also grows calm, collected, poised, and fully in control of a world rife with people who want to manipulate her.
Perennially underestimated, Mia constantly pulls the rug out from under the would-be thieves vying for her crown—and she does it all with a gracious smile and a pageant wave. And in the end, she takes the crown, heads off to become a writer, and—from the looks of Meg Cabot’s forthcoming update, Royal Wedding—marries the commoner of her dreams.
What could be more queenly than that?
Power ranking: 30/100
Main illustration and infographic by Walter Coots